“This is Burma. It is quite unlike any place you know about.”
If I were as eloquent as Rudyard Kipling, that would probably be my default reply whenever someone ask how my recent trip to Myanmar was. But I am not. Instead, I always come up with a lame three-word sentence that goes along the lines of:
“Myanmar was incredible.”
(Or replace the word “incredible” with “awesome”, “beautiful”, “lovely” and other praising adjectives that do not really say anything.)
In return, I normally get raised eyebrows and somewhat non-subtle skepticism from my listeners.
I don’t blame them. After all, the country is a hidden South East Asian gem, only opening up its economy to the world in the last two years. It is still shrouded in mystery (although I guess the biggest mystery to most of my fellow South East Asians is why we want to visit the place in the first place since there is an unspoken rule of the closer a place to our place of birth, the less interesting it is).
Anyway, since I feel the need to make up for my verbal incapability in travel story-telling, I have resolved to turn into Myanmar tourism evangelist through writing to do the country some justice it so deserves. However, I am not going to bore anyone to death by putting my travel itinerary here. Instead, I am going to list down my 10 personal favourite moments during my 9-day travel to Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon.
- Sunset at U Bein Bridge at Amarapura. I have a thing for sunsets. There is just something very magical about the sun disappearing behind the mountains and you can actually see it gradually descending before darkness finally takes over. And when you are admiring it from the longest teak bridge in the world, the magic is magnified.
- Wearing longyi. This wonderful Burmese traditional sarong is not only beautiful in photos, but they are also extremely useful for all the pagoda visits. Since all of them do not allow ladies to wear shorts and it is too warm to wear jeans all the time, longyi is the perfect solution for your temple-appropriate outfit without compromising comfort and beauty.
- Mingun Paya. The ancient structure simply took my breath away. The unfinished stupa is exactly just like those that you see in Indiana Jones movies, complete with a splitting crack thanks to an earthquake in 1839. I never thought that I would see such a sight at a country so close to where I live. I had always imagined that I had to travel all the way to places like Egypt for such an ancient luxury! So kudos to the ambitious King Bodawpaya for wanting to build what would have been a 150 m stupa!
- Climbing Mount Popa. When I heard that we had to conquer 777 steps to get to the top of the temple, my response: bring it on! The consequences: some of us puked and some of us shit in our pants. But I survived, unscathed.
- Popa Mountain Resort. We literally went into the resort, took pictures by the poolside and left. This one-of-a-kind view from the hotel poolside is worth crashing the resort for.
- Morning hot air balloon watching. It is not everyday that you wake up, walk out of your room and witness several hot air balloons floating above a sea of pagodas.
- Blue skies. This is another act of nature that I totally have weakness for. The only thing that is probably better than the clear blue skies is having ancient pagodas standing tall against them.
- Sunset from Buledi Paya. Did I mention before that I have a thing for sunsets? That it is worth climbing steep steps of a stupa for and conquering my fear of heights? I’ll let you be the judge if this is worth climbing for.
- Eating. I have a love-hate relationship with the culinary experience in Myanmar. After most of us were down with diarrhoea in Bagan, it took a while (read: a day) to begin appreciating Burmese food again. But 9 of us ordering 18 bowls of Shan noodles just two days after the episode is enough testimony that we are crazy about the food there.
- Shwedagon Pagoda at night. It is quite something to see ancient pagodas basking in the sunlight during the day, but it is quite another thing altogether to see it glowing against the night sky. Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda exudes its own unparalleled grandeur, and it is worth staying just to walk under the cool night breeze and wrap yourself in the serenity of the place (despite still being flocked with visitors right till its 10 pm closing time). I felt I could stay there all night.
Moral of the story: visit Myanmar!